Today was the fifth and final day of the “Outbreak!” project. And we focused on the most important task of all: producing a vaccine. We began by reviewing the Jonas Salk story. Then we walked through the basic steps of vaccine-making as a class (grow the virus, filter it into liquid form, freeze it with formaldehyde, and inject it into patients). Then each group set about making their own vaccine. The procedure for doing so will be the last section in their lab report.
Of course modern vaccine-making is more complicated. Growing viruses is tricky. And “freezing” them doesn’t always work. And they don’t use formaldehyde anymore because of its toxicity. But to me, those are just details. The real lesson in this project is much bigger than that. By giving people a deactivated or attenuated version of a virus, you can train their immune system to recognize the disease without them ever having to get sick. That is the heart of the Jonas Salk story and the heart of this project. His discovery was genius. And it has saved millions upon millions of lives.